Thursday, January 11, 2018

Russia is a Country Where the Government 'Kills Languages,’ Buryat Historian Says

Paul Goble

            Staunton, January 11 – Just as Moscow has removed animals from the Red Book of protected species to make it easier for hunters to kill rare species off, so too the Kremlin has removed the protections non-Russian languages have enjoyed and thus make it easier for the Russian regime to kill them off, Radzhana Dugarova says.

            The Buryat historian points out that, according to UNESCO, 136 languages of the Russian Federation are at risk of disappearing. This means that any Red Book of Languages at Risk would include all the languages of all the peoples of the Russian Federation except Russian (

                “All the languages of the numerically small peoples of the North and Siberia, Udmurt, Kalmyk, Chukchi, Buryat and the languages of the peoples of the North Caucasus are at the brink of disappearing [and] certain languages, Kamasa, Kerek, Ubykh, and Yug finally died out already in the 20th century.” In short, Russia is “a country where they kill languages.”

            That is what Vladimir Putin is about when he insists that no one should be required to learn a language other than his own, except for Russian, a policy that is the inevitable outcome of the anti-Russian policies in education he and his regime have been promoting since the early years of his rule, Dugarova continues.

            “It has often been noted,” she says, “that the Russian authorities have for a long time already been living in an alternative reality. In this reality, the Russian Federation has finally been converted into the Russian Empire of the model of the century before last, a colonial ‘prison house of peoples,’ pursuing a harsh course of the assimilation of minorities.”

            The Kremlin has made enormous strides in that direction, the historian says. “Russia today is essentially a unitary state with a fake federal system which has finally been destroyed by the much-ballyhooed ‘power vertical.’  And the fact that the president of a multi-national country openly calls himself a Russian nationality in this reality seems absolutely logical and justified.”

            But “in the real world,” Russia’s ethnic and linguistic minorities have rights under international law; and to the extent they are now cowed by the power of the Russian state, they are angry. Moscow’s attacks on their languages are increasingly viewed as attacks on themselves, leading to a sharp deterioration of inter-ethnic relations.

            That is especially because Putin’s policies have created chaos, in Tatarstan now just as in Buryatia three years ago.  And while some say that teaching in national languages is less important than “preserving it in the family,” few non-Russians believe that even if Russian nationalists can be counted on to repeat it again and again.

                The Russian nationalists like this argument because it shifts the blame for what is happening away from the Russian state to the non-Russians. If non-Russian languages die, this argument implies, it is the fault of the non-Russians who haven’t saved them rather than the Russian state which in the name of choice and voluntariness has made that impossible.

            But the Russian nationalists show that they do not believe what they are saying by their attacks on Estonia, Latvia and Ukraine for not providing what they believe are sufficiently good conditions for instruction in Russian in those countries, Dugarova continues. Languages survive or die depending on what the government does, regardless of what Russian nationalists say.

            As of today, the Russian state is “concerned only about the survival of the Russian language.” All others will be allowed to die. Russians may think they will be the beneficiaries of this; but they are wrong: they are breeding their own nemeses in people who have had their right to survive taken away from them.

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